The two consoles we landed on were the Midas M32 and the Soundcraft Si Expression 3. The rep from Soundcraft wasn’t able to get his hands on an Expression 3, but he did send an Expression 1, which is basically the same desk with fewer faders and physical inputs than the 3. For our purposes it was an adequate stand-in. The folks from Midas sent two sales reps and a brand new console still in the box. Soundcraft sent the console but no rep.
The console we will choose has to meet a few simple requirements. Many of the ones we looked at meet some or all of the requirements, but these two were the ones we thought were best.
Here’s what we are looking for in no particular order:
- Ease of operation – Most of these consoles will be run by volunteers who don’t have ridiculous amounts of time for training and getting to know the board. They need to be able to walk in and get started as soon as possible.
- Build quality – We need these things to last for a long time. We’re not rough on our gear, but we do like to keep it around as long as possible.
- Sound Quality – It doesn’t matter if they’re easy to learn and built like a tank if they sound terrible. We need them to sound good.
- Cost – We’re looking to buy a few of these and the lower the cost, the better.
Walking into the test, I thought I had a good idea of what we would find. I thought the Soundcraft board would “win” because at face value, it looked like the easier board to run. Fewer knobs, less screens to go through to get what you want. It just looked like an easy board for a volunteer to operate. After the test, I had a different opinion.
We looked at the M32 from Midas first. Since their reps were there, they unboxed it and set it up for us. As the rep started going through the setup and operation of the console one thing became very clear – they nailed it with the operating system on this console. The firmware that originated in the Behringer X32 really shines in the Midas chassis. No matter what you’re trying to do on this console, it seems that the correct screen is either already engaged, or is one button click away. Very nice. Setting up mix groups, monitor sends, etc. is dead simple. Just a few very intuitive clicks and you have a drum group, vocal group, or whatever type of group you want ready to go. Really easy. The key word here is “intuitive”. Everything about the layout and operation of this console makes sense. That’s strong praise from an old video guy.
After we wrapped up our demo of the M32, we moved on to the Soundcraft Si Expression. Let’s just say that it’s not super intuitive to operate. Lots of the same functionality is there, but figuring out how to get it to do what you want is kind of a challenge. With some time and a little bit of monkey-punching we got it do do what we wanted but never in a way that was as easy as the M32. Throw in the lack of scribble strips and limited screen real estate and you have some real shortcomings compared to the Midas board.
At the end of the day, it was an easy decision for us. The M32 had a fuller sound and was much easier to operate. Despite the fact that it costs about $1500 more than the Soundcraft, we landed squarely on the M32. You won’t see it at Front of House in our main room any time soon, but in the medium-sized rooms we are looking to outfit, it’s the perfect choice.
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